RGP officers give evidence to Spanish judge after cross-border drugs chase

RGP officers give evidence to Spanish judge after cross-border drugs chase

The crew of a Gibraltarian police boat has given evidence to a Spanish magistrate investigating a high-speed drugs chase that started close to the Rock but strayed into Spanish waters.
The Royal Gibraltar Police confirmed that three officers appeared before the magistrate in La Linea to recount the events surrounding the chase, which culminated in a suspect boat being stopped and jurisdiction handed over to the Guardia Civil.
Although law enforcement agencies on either side of the border cooperate as a matter of routine when tackling drug smuggling, it is highly unusual – though not unprecedented – for Gibraltarian officers to give evidence as witnesses in a criminal investigation in Spain.
The evidence was not provided as part of a court case or trial, but rather as part of an information-gathering process. Under the Spanish judicial system, investigating magistrates collect information from the outset of an investigation in order to determine its course.
The incident under investigation by the Spanish judge occurred in the early hours of Good Friday and resulted in an RGP officer being injured after he jumped from a police boat into a rigid-hulled inflatable boat suspected of involvement in drug smuggling.
The Chronicle reported last month that senior police managers here were probing the incident amid concerns that the injury was sustained outside British Gibraltar territorial waters, something that has now been confirmed.
At the time of the chase in the Bay of Gibraltar, the RGP crew was coordinating the pursuit in close communication with the police controllers, other local maritime agencies and the Guardia Civil.
They intercepted the suspect RHIB in British waters but were travelling at very high speeds, meaning that within seconds they strayed over the median line and jurisdiction changed.
“At the point of interception the chase had strayed into Spanish territorial waters, [and] while this is not desirable nor allowed by RGP policy, it is the consequence of operating in an extremely challenging and constrained environment,” a police spokesman told the Chronicle.
“Jurisdiction over the matter was handed over to the Spanish authorities as soon as practicable.”
The police spokesman said no arrests were made as a result of the chase, either in Gibraltar or in Spain.
However the Guardia Civil seized the RHIB involved in the incident and a large number of bales of cannabis resin were also recovered that night.
As routinely happens in such circumstances, the matter was placed by the Guardia Civil in the hands of an investigating magistrate in La Linea, who requested information from the local officers involved.
“The officers have related their individual recollection of events to the investigating judge judge,” the RGP spokesman said, adding that the crew had been accompanied by senior officers.
“They have given evidence as witnesses.”
The case remains under investigation in Spain.
In Gibraltar, senior police managers have also reviewed the incident and are satisfied that no changes are needed to the rules under which the RGP operates at sea.
“No changes to our operational procedures have been implemented arising from this incident nor has it been deemed necessary,” the police spokesman said.
He said the RGP’s response “…highlights the measures taken, our procedures and the challenges faced when operating in such an environment.”
The developments surrounding this incident come against the backdrop of a surge in drug smuggling across the Strait of Gibraltar, with Gibraltar and Spanish law enforcement agencies reporting multiple high-speed chases almost on a nightly basis.
There is also concern in southern Spain that organised criminal gangs are increasingly turning to intimidation and violence as part of their clandestine trade.

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Brian Reyes
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